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Most new housing so poorly designed it should not have been built, says Bartlett report

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  • 16 Comments

The vast majority of new housing developments should not have been built due to their shoddy design, according to an audit by the Bartlett School of Planning

Damage is being done to the environment and to residents’ health and quality of life through some of the poor schemes being built, the report says.

The study looked at 140 developments across England built since 2007 and found that 20 per cent of developments should have been rejected outright by planning authorities.

A further 54 per cent, the report adds, should have been rejected at planning and only built if the developer came back with ‘significant improvements’ in the design.

The most common problem identified was an excess of tarmac or brick paving, due to poorly planned roads and a poor integration of bins and car parking.

The audit also threw up concerns about limited concern with place-making, noting that ‘housing units are frequently of an obviously standard type, with little attempt to create something distinctive’.

And it said that new developments were failing to respond to environmental problems, with ‘significant numbers’ of schemes falling below the minimum energy efficiency requirements.

regional split diagram (2)

regional split diagram (2)

Regional breakdown of the quality of new housing developments, according to the report

Even when homes are, supposedly, meeting the requirements there is gap between the energy efficiency designed and the actual performance of homes, the report claims.

Developments also frequently ‘fail to deliver’ on a green or bio-diverse landscape.

Developers which had at least one of their schemes included in the list of 140 reviewed include Persimmon, Bellway, Taylor Wimpey and Crest Nicholson. 

Tom Fyans, campaigns and policy director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which co-commissioned the audit, said: ‘This research is utterly damning of larger housebuilders.’

He added: ‘The government has presided over a decade of disastrous housing design and must raise standards immediately.’

As well as the CPRE, the audit was paid for by the Place Alliance and the Laidlaw Scholarship Program.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: ‘We expect developers to make sure new homes are well-designed, and our new national design guide sets out how beautiful places can be achieved in practice – ensuring slap-dash proposals don’t get built.’

‘There is no excuse for shoddy design and our revised planning rulebook ensures councils already have the power to refuse planning applications on this basis.’

The spokesperson declined to comment on the issue of poorly designed schemes getting consent on planning appeal after local authorities have rejected them.

The audit identified this as a problem, suggested it ‘sends a message that design quality doesn’t matter’ and ‘fatally undermines the government’s own policy on design’.

Last week a 1,524-home scheme in east London was handed consent by housing secretary Robert Jenrick, despite the objection of the national planning inspector and local planning authorities on design grounds.

Other key findings in the housing audit

  • Better-designed schemes achieve higher sales values. Less affluent communities are 10 times more likely to be living in poorly designed homes
  • The distribution of good and poor-quality housing schemes is patchy, with examples of each in every region. However, Greater London was the best-performing region, while the East Midlands and South West were the worst
  • The quality of design by large housebuilders varies within, as well as in between, companies. Developers often have some schemes which score highly on the design audit, and others which score poorly
  • Higher-density schemes tend to be better-designed. The best schemes averaged 56 dwellings per hectare, while the worst averaged 32 dwellings per hectare – which, by coincidence, is the national average 
  • 16 Comments

Readers' comments (16)

  • I wonder if the fact that the government of this country is now led by someone demonstrably lacking the integrity that we should reasonably expect in our Prime Minister might be now starting to 'bear fruit' in the actions of his ministers, starting with Robert Jenrick?
    His cv reads quite well, but compare that with the past history of his favoured East London developer and warning bells start to ring deafeningly.
    At a guess, I'd say that the next government minister to get embroiled in architectural controversy could be Esther McVey, who is now deciding on the proposed Holocaust memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens.

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  • I wonder why comment was declined regarding schemes passed on appeal? There are numerous developments which have been rejected on very good grounds by the LA, only to be overturned by a planning inspector with no local knowledge whose brief is to get as much housing built as possible, no matter what the standard.

    Villages and small towns are being subsumed by badly designed and shoddily built modern slums, which have no local facilities and mean that everyone has to drive. The traffic blight, pressure on local services and infrastructure (transport, doctors and schools for example) ruins the environment for everyone.

    The problem lies with the unmanaged increase in population - these people have to live somewhere and unfortunately it is at the expense of good design, quality of life, and the natural world.

    All governments of whatever colour do not want to address the elephant in the room - overpopulation.

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  • How odd that this report should come from the Bartlett, a school that churns out masses of architecture students each year into the industry who have no skills whatsoever in realistic housing design. It's a photoshop-school for pretty pictures devoid of any real-world applications. The planning department should have a little chat with their colleagues. 99% of these kids can lecture you on parametric design and grasshopper, but can't detail a plasterboard partition or cite a single building reg that would apply to housing.

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  • Design is one issue. The built quality and detailing are equally appalling. For tens of years I have been advising clients looking to buy a home to stay clear of any developer/ volume house builder built housing in the UK.

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  • The bad examples are predominantly lower density greenfield sites with very limited public transport and facilities nearby. I reviewed a few of North London schemes and they were generally fairly good but were incorporated in existing neighbourhoods with facilities. Urban development fares better and the existing grain and density is a key aspect. Reviewing schemes outside London the standards struggle unless the LPA is strong and insists on the highest quality.

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  • Clare Richards

    Has anyone read the NPPF recently? Is any of this a surprise when 'Maintaining Supply and Delivery' (Para 73) clearly takes precedence over 'Achieving Well-designed Places' (Para 124), where 'good design' is not even defined. There is no muscle whatsoever with which to enforce design quality, or to penalise offenders.

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  • Alan Crawford

    "Little boxes made of ticky tacky and they all look just they same."

    https://youtu.be/XUwUp-D_VV0

    This 1962 song immediately springs to mind when viewing these types of housing developments which haven't evolved greatly in the past 50 years. Boxes stripped bare of anything pleasing to the eye or the spirit with no joy, no soul, and no beauty.

    Working on these types of residential 'estate' layouts as a Part 1 student, I remember being introduced to a wonderful book, 'Townscape' (1961) by Gordon Cullen, that pioneered the art of giving visual coherence and organization to the jumble of buildings, streets and space that make up the urban environment. We looked at applying the principles explored in Cullen's book within these suburban estate designs which were often green fields, and aimed to produce layouts with a sense of place that incorporated variety and visual interest, with clustered housing arrangements, shared vehicular and pedestrian areas, landscaped defensible garden spaces, and communal safe and secure play areas, whilst still utilising the developer's 'standard' house types.

    In 1973, the "Essex Design Guide" appeared, encouraging high-quality development and aspiring to create distinctive places where people want to live. At the time, this seemed revolutionary and resulted in many developers rethinking their approach to the design of large residential estates across the country for fear of their planning applications being refused. The EDG has evolved since its first publication to take account of other important parameters of residential design and its ambitions remain the same. The concern for designers was that the guide promoted a certain 'style' for the new houses within the developments that encouraged a traditional vernacular, precluding the possibility for more contemporary materials and details to be incorporated.

    Then in 2006, along came Alain de Botton's The Architecture of Happiness, a book which discusses the importance of beauty, and analyses human surroundings and how human needs and desires manifest their ideals in architecture. The book was then turned into a 3 part TV series, and Part 1 is recommended viewing to understand the diversity of views of people in the local community living next to these new developments and objecting to the anonymity of the designs of these large estates, and the thoughts of the developer confidant in giving the prospective purchasers "more of what they want"!

    https://www.alaindebotton.com/architecture/watch/

    Fast forward to 2020 and according to the RIBA, only six per cent of new homes in the UK are designed by architects. That means, last year, over 200,000 homes were built in England without the input of an architect.

    Shouldn't it be mandatory for architects to be involved in the design of all housing projects large and small, particularly as we head towards a carbon zero future. Your magazine has featured a number of larger scale estate developments where layout and building design combine to create sustainable and safe community living in landscaped environments incorporating modern methods of construction, renewable green energy provision, and smart technology that all combine to provide improved living conditions and the level of health and well-being appropriate for 21st century homes.

    The skills and technology that exist in abundance should be applied to the design of these residential estates, and the legacy of the projects mentioned in the report needs to be firmly discarded to Room 101.


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  • Murphy is mistaken in saying that the problem arises from population increase. A former civil servant stayed on Channel 4 news that house building had out-paced population growth for many years. The problem lies in mal-distribution of the available stock & the perception of housing as an investment rather than a basic human right to decent shelter. Since 1979 gobs of every stripe have regarded inflation in the housing market as fundamental to the health of the economy. The result- generation rent at the mercy of the buy-to-let landlords.

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  • The general low quality of new housing in the UK can be explained by the fact that people are so desperate to have anywhere they can buy to live in.

    With housing demand significantly outstripping the supply of good new homes, people feel obliged forced to buy sub-standard designs.

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  • Nearly a century after the Weissenhofsiedlung and most volume house builders are still throwing up this shite, blighting the suburbs and the shires alike. Despite 90% of new homes not being designed by Architects its clear that the wider population blame us for this. Its embarrassing at best, a huge con at worst. This study is important in highlighting and measuring the under performance and failings - the perpetrators should be fined punitively and made to repair the ecological and environmental damage.

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